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Sebastian Vettel led from the pole to the chequered flag - and then some - to claim a long-awaited Ferrari victory at the Canadian Grand Prix.
The four-time world champion sped on after the flag was waved one lap too early, finishing his wire-to-wire victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Sunday to claim his third win of the year and the lead in the Formula One standings.
“I was a bit confused. I told them I don’t think the race is over yet,” said Vettel, who confirmed on the counter in his car and with his team that he was only completing his 69th of the scheduled 70 laps.
“Some of the marshals were already celebrating,” he said. “I was just worried that people don’t jump on the track and start celebrating. We’re still going at full pace.”
Canadian model Winnie Harlow blamed race officials for telling her the wrong time to wave the flag. Formula One regulations say that if a chequered flag is waved too early, the race is over as of the last completed lap, making the results official as through 68 laps.
F1 spokesman Matteo Bonciani said there was confusion getting the message from a course official to Harlow on the platform.
“WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO WAVE THE FLAG A LAP TOO EARLY!” Harlow wrote on Instagram. “You had one job, sir!!! Hahaha but so grateful everyone was safe today and no one got hurt!”
Had any passing occurred on the 69th or 70th laps, it would not have counted, Bonciani said. But there was not, and Vettel picked up the 50th win of his career, his second in Montreal and the first for Ferrari at the track since Michael Schumacher won three in a row from 2002-04.
Mercedes was second with Valtteri Bottas - not erstwhile championship leader Lewis Hamilton - about six seconds back after never really challenging for the win. Max Verstappen was third and the other Red Bull car, driven by Daniel Ricciardo, was fourth.
Hamilton, who was fifth on Sunday, fell from the top of the Formula One standings and now trails Vettel by one point, 121-120. He had been going for a record-tying seventh victory in Montreal and a third win in four races.
“I’m the opposite of confident,” said Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff, whose team failed to deliver with an engine upgrade in time for the weekend and also botched its tyre strategy in practice.
“I think this is a major wake-up call for every member of the team,” he said. “Everybody needs to assess how to improve performance. Those marginal gains are going to make all the difference.”
Starting cleanly, Vettel was pulling away from the field when a crash between Brendon Hartley and hometown favourite Lance Stroll brought out the safety car in the very first lap. On the restart, Sergio Perez skidded onto the grass but managed to straighten himself out and rejoin the race.
Vettel had no such trouble, leaving the jostling behind him as he steered through the 4.36-km track named for the Ferrari driver and Montreal native who earned his first Formula One victory here 40 years ago.
“Grazie,” the German said to his Italy-based team before grabbing a red and yellow Ferrari flag and waving it on his way to the podium.
“They’ve been waiting long enough for Ferrari to win here,” Vettel added. “Forty years after Gilles won his Grand Prix here, it’s nice to show Ferrari is still alive. It’s nice to become part of that story, hopefully a little bit more in the future.”
Bottas finished second for the fourth time in seven races this season. “The Ferrari was controlling the race and we just weren’t quick enough,” he said. “I backed off late in the race to save some fuel which is why Max got so close.
“We were the only top team that didn’t bring a new engine for this race, everyone else had an improved power unit. Hopefully the introduction of our new engine in France will help us in the fight with Ferrari and Red Bull.”
The fifth place finish was Hamilton’s worst of the year, but he said his engine was giving him problems all season. “It was a tough day in the office but I’m just very grateful that I finished today’s race and score some points,” he admitted. “From the start I was down on power and my engine was overheating. I couldn’t get the temperatures down, so I just thought it was going to fail. Every single lap I was waiting for the power to just drop away and disappear - but it kept going.
“I could have lost a lot more points today; fifth is not the strongest result, but it could have been a lot worse. Ferrari have been doing a slightly better job and brought a better package, but we are very close. The guys are working really hard, but each and every one of us can always do better and improve. We will just keep our heads down, keep pushing and stay positive.”
Verstappen’s podium was his second of the year, and it eases some of the pressure he has felt with a series of mistakes that cost him and the Red Bull team in Azerbaijan and Monaco. After arriving in Montreal, Verstappen half-jokingly threatened to head-butt any reporter who asked about the crashes.
The day was less positive for McLaren’s two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who was celebrating his 300th Formula One race. He retired to the garage after 43 laps — the eighth time he has failed to finish in Montreal.
It was also a short day for Stroll, a Montreal native who locked up with Hartley heading into Turn 5 on the first lap. A year ago, Stroll picked up the first Formula One points of his career in his hometown.